Here’s the deal.
We offer you employment in our organization. You will provide your labour, and we’ll pay you in return. But please note some basic points very carefully.
The organization belongs to us, not you. It exists to fulfil our purpose and push our agenda, not yours. You are a hired hand, a cog in our machine. You follow instructions. You are not asked to think, just to do as you’re told. We will provide all the manuals and directions that you need. If you follow them diligently, we will keep paying you, at slightly higher rates every year.
You will probably hate your work with us. We know that. It will be repetitive and banal, because we keep the interesting stuff for ourselves. We don’t really expect you to be terribly lively while working, as long as you do it. You will clock in and clock out. You will come to life elsewhere, not here. You will live for the weekends, when you are able to be alive: at home with your family; with the boys at the bar; watching the big game; or singing with gusto at church.
You will always say “Thank God It’s Friday” and “I Hate Mondays.” Five-sevenths of your life will be forced labour. That is why you are called a human “resource.” And that is why what we pay you will be called “compensation” – it is recompense for taking a big chunk out of your life. Because there is no meaning to what you do, we recognize that money will be the only reason your work for us. A little more money offered elsewhere is all it will take for you to leave us. That’s OK too – there are plenty more where you came from.
You will be part of a large crowd. Out of this crowd, we will handpick a very small number for elevation. The criteria for elevation will include your capacity for sycophancy; your willingness to play the game by our rules; and your ability to manipulate others. If you play your cards right, you may be chosen to join the elite group known as “senior management.” Your key responsibility now will be to keep the game going on our behalf, and quell any rebellions. For this you will be paid more, something we will call “reward and remuneration.”
Let’s stop there. Did I just describe your job or your organization? Even if you deny it, the chances are good that I did: global surveys repeatedly reveal that only something like one in five workers is truly engaged in his or her work with any enthusiasm. And this isn’t just about low-level labourers; the malaise goes all the way to the top in many organizations. Other surveys show that between a third and a half of employees in organizations are ready to leave at any given time.
Why do we do this? Why is this the only employment contract we are able to offer, even if we pretend otherwise? Because our view of employment is stuck in the era when we needed worker-drones to come to the fields and mills and factories and do as they were told by the clever people. Most people were indeed just resources then.
Look around you tomorrow morning. How many people are truly at work? How many feel engaged and alive, connected with their work, ready to give their best, imbued with a sense of meaning and purpose? Not many, huh?
This can’t last, good people. The era in which all we need are mute replaceable androids is long gone – it just hasn’t left our management practices yet. In the knowledge economy, we need bright ideas and passionate people all around us, at all levels.
See you here next week to see how we can all get humans to do the work of humans.